If you had gone apartment hunting forty years ago, it was not unusual to find a sign that would say: “No children and no pets!” Prior to 1988, it was legal to ban children from some housing. In some places children were not wanted because they made too much noise, made a mess and were a nuisance. Such places only wanted adults living there who were responsible.
But this morning we want to ask, “Do we want children in the church?” Our first response to this is to say, “Of course we do!” Any church that said that they didn’t want children in their church has a serious problem. But perhaps it is more of a problem than what we realize. Do we really want children in the church? In the passage we read this morning we see what Jesus thinks of children in his church. Let’s read Mark 10:13-16.
I. First we see how the disciples rejected some children.
The details in this episode are sketchy but we can picture the scene clearly. Children were brought to Jesus in order for him to bless them for their future life. This is something that the rabbis would normally also do for children. So who are these children being brought to Jesus? In verse 16, we read that Jesus took the children into his arms which suggests that these were quite young children. However, the same term for children is the term used in Mark 5 to describe a child of about 12 years of age and so there could have been a range of ages there.
I have often imagined that it was their mothers who brought them, but since the masculine form is given which indicates that it may have been the children’s fathers. In fact, it may also have been the children themselves doing the bringing with the older children bringing the younger children to Jesus. At any rate children of various ages were brought to Jesus in order to be blessed by him.
But the disciples step in and announce that there will be no blessing of children today! While Mark does not say why the disciples stopped the children we can easily guess. Jesus had been teaching for a long time and the disciples may have felt that dealing with a crowd of energy-filled children might be too much for him. Or perhaps these children had been disrupting things or had been noisy. It may also have been that Jesus was busy at that time either healing the sick or teaching his disciples; they thought that Jesus was doing more important things. So imagine today if I asked the children to come up for the children’s sermon and the elders stopped them and said, “No, not today! Go back to your seats.” It must have been a very awkward moment for those children.
The disciples’ view of children as unimportant was common in the world at that time. In the Roman world, children were viewed as possessions and could literally be treated any way the father chose, including killing them. That is not the Old Testament view of children but the culture around the disciples would strongly encourage the view that children were not important.
But once again, the disciples’ action was a clear abuse of their authority. And in that respect it is similar to their lack of understanding that prompted them to try to stop the man who was casting out demons without their authority. Once again, the disciples failed to understand the values of the Kingdom that Jesus had been teaching them about.
But before we criticize the disciples, let’s ask if we as a church say “no” to children. Do we expect our children just to endure the worship services, which is what I had to do while growing up, or do we do things that they will enjoy and understand? Should I plan a children’s sermon for every Sunday even if I am running out of ideas? Or should I do this only when I have time? Or should I drop the children’s sermon when there are too many other things going on in the morning?
Do we take a genuine interest in the children of our church? Do we know what they are like or what they like to do? Do we take the time just to talk to the children of our church? Every Saturday morning, Dr. David Fitch has breakfast with his 10-year-old son where he invites him, without devices or TV, to talk about 3 topics of their choosing; his son can choose two of the three topics. His son doesn’t really like it and would rather watch TV, but he knows that his father is concerned and wants to be a part of his life. His son may want to talk about dogs and airplanes but his dad wants to talk about school and the highlights and lowlights of the past week.
Do we interact with our children in a way that they know that they belong? Do we do that in our church with our church children? Do we do that at home with our own children or grandchildren?
Mark is the only gospel writer to record Jesus’ indignation toward the disciples. His words imply impatience and irritation for his responses are short and sharp: “Let the little children come to me. Do not hinder them!” Those of you who know my wife know that she is very patient and kind but I want you to know something about Claire. You can infringe on her rights and she won’t say anything to you. But hurt anyone that she loves and she will speak her mind. Many years ago, we went to an amusement park in Iowa and went to one of the shows in the park. We figured it would be crowded and so we got their early so we could get a seat near the back with Ben who was just two years old at the time. Just after the show started, another family came in and literally stood right in front of us and completely blocked our view. Claire didn’t mind that she couldn’t see but Linda and Ben couldn’t see. So she very firmly, but politely asked the family to move so that we could see.
I don’t think she is alone in this. If someone we love is being mistreated we strongly defend them. That is what Jesus is doing here; those whom he loved were being treated unfairly and he became angry and strongly defended them. Think of how Jesus must feel when he sees children being abused by child abuse, child pornography, children as sex slaves or by aborting babies.
And so Jesus then invited the children to come to him because they are important! These children are important to Jesus because the kingdom that he has been teaching about all along actually belongs to these children! They have every right to be there with Jesus. They belong!
In fact, Jesus says that children are indeed model citizens of his kingdom! Anyone who will receive the kingdom, who desires to be saved by Jesus, must accept it like a child accepts something. Think of how trusting and accepting children are. For a long time, a child will believe anything that someone tells them. Only when they get older do they start to question why things are the way they are and question how we know things. But when they are young, they are so trusting and so believing.
And that is what followers of Jesus Christ must be like as well. God gives eternal life and man receives it and brings nothing to it. Jesus offers his life to the people of the world. He took the punishment that we deserve and died on the cross so that we can have eternal life. And now God offers that life to us as a gift much like the generous man offers a coin to the child. He wants us to receive it and thank him for it. And what do we often end up doing instead? We hesitate or say, “I’m not good enough.” Well, of course we aren’t! Or we think that there are strings attached, “It’s a trap to get me to do something I don’t want to do.” Jesus says to us, “Be like a child, believe my offer and accept it.”
And Jesus not only accepts these children, he demonstrates his love for them. This is a beautiful and touching picture. He takes each child in His arms, holds them, and hugs them. He prays for them and asks God to richly bless them in their future lives. He shows his love by showing them individual attention and care. What a powerful impact that must have had on the children and parents alike. When the child grew older, his parents could tell him, “One time Jesus held you in his arms and blessed you.” “He loved you then and he really loves you now!” Jesus lovingly accepts children in his kingdom.
III. What should the church do with children?
Quite simply, the church must accept them. How? Simply by loving them and accepting him or her just as Jesus does. Surround them with a love that makes them feel safe and secure. A love that allows them to be children and be themselves. A love that is also expressed in firm and fair discipline. A love that treats each individual child as special. That is the love that Jesus showed these children and which we must show them as well.
But how can we do that specifically? First, we should accept our children’s statements of faith. We need to encourage our children to take a stand for Jesus at any age. That doesn’t mean that they have a clear understanding of all the theological truths we hold; they don’t understand the doctrines. But we allow them to say that they believe in Jesus with all their heart.
Second, we must teach them. That means more than just preparing a lesson for a Sunday School class. It means taking the effort to get to know each child as much as you are able. It means showing that you care for each child as a person. It means being willing to teach, as some of you have done, when no one else has come forward to be a teacher.
We also should listen to the lessons that our children are continually teaching us. The simple truths of the Bible which we have either forgotten or taken for granted are brought home with striking clarity and power by our children. In my previous church in Iowa there was a family who had a little girl named Rachel who had a terminal liver disease, biliary atresia. Rachel struggled with this disease for over 3 years until she died from it. It was very hard and very sad for the family and for those who knew them and had been with them through this struggle. I conducted the funeral, my very first funeral, for Rachel and I remember watching Rachel’s older sister, Julia, before and after the funeral. Julia was running around smiling, bubbling, happy as can be. Her mother said to me that Julia can’t understand why everyone is so sad. To her it did not make sense to be sad. Rachel believed in Jesus. And if you believe in Jesus then when you die you go to heaven. That means that Rachel is with Jesus right now in heaven. What better place, what happier place could she be in than with Jesus in heaven?
That is the faith of a child! But you say, “But they don’t understand the hurt, the frustrations of this life, the difficulties and the disappointments!” You’re right, of course, they don’t. But I think they understand the basics of the gospel much more clearly than many of us with our vast array of biblical knowledge. Our children have so much to teach us if we are willing to listen to them. In what ways will you bless the children of our church in the weeks to come? Will you trust and accept the amazing gift of grace with the faith of small child?